Plotting or Plodding?

Humph! Here’s the real truth about writers: sometimes we have no idea how it’s all going to turn out.

I mean, really, what are we doing? What am I doing? What is my plot doing?

Sometimes it feels like I’m playing a giant connect-the-dots while blindfolded. Are these two dots really going to connect in the end?

This is an issue with any type of writing – including a stand-alone novel. But with a series, humph! Plotting seems like plodding at an ant’s pace.

I’m working on the final segment of The Forgotten Child Trilogy, and while I’m currently on chapter 19 – more than half way finished, I am starting to wonder how I’m going to tie up all of these strands. Yes, I like strands. Perhaps too much. Maybe I should have stuck with the third person limited. I did that once with the novel A Love Story For a Nation and I must admit it was freeing because every scene whether description or dialogue came from one person’s perspective. That’s why books which in the first person “I” have such an appeal.  It’s immediate. It’s personal. But let’s admit it. It’s also limiting.

My first series is being written in third person omniscient. It has to be this way because there are so many characters who are helping to tell the story. Now, I don’t write the narration from everyone’s perspective. In fact, there are three (maybe four) antagonists and I don’t tell it from their perspective at all. It’s just a choice I’ve made in this particular series. I wanted their motivations to be slightly obscured through the perspective of the different protagonists. Yes, this story is about many people.

There’s the rub. It can be confusing because I’m trying to balance many different strands from many different perspectives: Frick, Bee, Ash, Hatty, Ruthy, Rachany, Haddock, Adams & O’Malley – any more?

Okay, so what’s the solution? How to keep my head on straight?

First, take a deep breath and know that no one else – I mean no one – will ever see your first draft. So it’s okay if it’s terrible, and it usually is.  Just get the story down the best you can. You may not fill all holes at once and that’s okay.

Second, plan on spending the next six months doing rewrites and revisions. Just do it. Build in the time into your writing schedule. You’ll be amazed at how your mind will shift and you’ll get new ideas – better ideas – over time. Don’t be in a rush to get it done. Take your time.

Third, remember that it will work out in the end. It always does. The ‘i’s will be dotted the the ‘t’s crossed. It just takes time. It may seem chaotic right now, but after you write that next chapter, some clarity will come. More direction will be revealed and you’ll get there.

Four, remember to tie up all the ends even if it means re-writing. Don’t leave anything hanging when you come to the end of the series. Therefore, read the whole thing again. I know, I know. You told yourself that you’d rather bang your head against the wall than read your story one more time. But it will be worth it. Slow down. Read it again. Make sure it’s all tied up neatly in the end.

A good last impression is the best impression. Don’t let the end slip away from you.

Okay, now I need to start following my own advice.

Advertisements

Cancel Everything. Write and Discover.

A couple months ago, I was publicly weighing the options of how to write book three of my trilogy. I first stated how great outlining was, though I rarely used it before. Then I followed that up by stating that I just need to discover where I’m going before I get there.

I’m not a good third way into my novel and I realize how ridiculous all of this sounded. I can’t plan or outline or discover anything until I start writing.

Writing is outlining. Writing is planning. Writing is discovering. At least it is for me.

I fretted and worried about where this story would be going. How silly it all seems now!

As I started writing, I have discovered ideas that I would never have thought of before. I  came across plot shifts and surprising developments that even surprised me, the writer.

How does that work? How am I so blinded by my own story that it ends up surprising me?

It must be about a lack of development. When I outline an idea, it’s just a shell with not any structure standing around it. It sounds good at the time, but it’s hollow with no substance behind it.

Then I start writing. The first idea gets developed and that leads to a new set of objectives and details which I didn’t have in my writing bag before. So I shift gears and end up going in a direction which I couldn’t have anticipated.

When I’m not writing, it’s frightening because I can’t figure out what’s going to happen.

But when I’m writing, it’s exhilarating. It’s like walking down a virgin path in the woods and discovering a mysterious cave you never new was there. I don’t think I’ll doubt myself anymore.  This is how I write. This is how I live. I can’t plan. I don’t know how to. All of my plans fall through as my never-ending brain shifts and changes at the whims of a new idea.

So I think I will strop trying to write like anyone else but myself.

I write to discover. Period. Foreever and ever. I’ll leave the outlining to those really smart writers who have a singular mind which doesn’t change.

I’ll continue to change with the whims of the air. And my mind.

Publishing 7, Writing 8, Planning 9

I guess I’m hopelessly a writer. It doesn’t depend on how many are reading my works. They continue. I couldn’t stop them if I tried, and it’s all rather exciting.

I’m on the brink of publishing my 7th novel,  THE AFRICAN CONNECTION, which is part two of my new trilogy entitled THE FORGOTTEN CHILD TRILOGY.  I’m currently writing my eighth novel which will conclude the trilogy. Today is a wonderful writing day. Already clocked in over 3600 words and it’s only 1:30 PM. I’m rearing to go. Watch out.

At the same time, I’m ready a book which is part of my research for novel #9 in the works which I will completely keep under wraps at this point. I absolutely can’t wait to get to it though. I will tell you the genre: alternate history, and I’m finding it absolutely fascinating to plan it out. It will once again be different from anything I’ve ever written.

That actually seems to be a theme for me. Try something new. It’s not necessarily a great way to market yourself: watch out, the next book may be different. I’ve had reviewers, actually, which have commented how different my books are from release to release, but luckily, they have said they have liked them all. That’s a blessing, of course.

I write what comes to my heart. I have never thought about what readers would like. I suppose that has hurt my marketability. But I have to be true to who I am and what is going on inside of me. If people love to read it, great. If not, well, maybe next time.

But for me it’s always about writing the very best story which is currently on my heart.

What do you think? Is that silly? Noble? Insane in this day and age?

No matter, it’s what I love to do. And so, this blog post is simply a short break from novel 8. So back at it.

Hope to see you in the pages.

Just Write. That’s the Bottom Line.

I recently wrote a post about outlining in novel writing and how I’m not a huge fan. Of course, there is always a time for outlining, and I do tend to use it sometimes.

I’ve been trying to outline book three of my trilogy since I know how I want it to end. I just figured it might be easy to plot everything out and get where I need to be. Right? Simple!

Forget all of that. I finally arrived at the point where I am doing too much thinking and not enough writing. So yesterday, I scraped the outlining idea. Be gone, bullet points!

It’s time to write. It’s time to power through on the ideas that I do have and trust in my process.

And that’s the key. If you have a writing process that has worked for you in the past, trust it. Let’s use a baseball analogy. I’m a big baseball fan, and every hitter goes through a slump. Sometimes an extended slump and it can be disconcerting. They start doubting their swing and their mechanics. Should they start tinkering with what has worked in the past? Should they try and find a new silver bullet? One of the players I follow has been horrible for the past three weeks, but I keep reading how he just remains confident, keep working hard on all aspects of the game in which he can control, do the things which have brought him success in the past, and just wait for the resurgence to come. It has, by the way.

Isn’t writing the same? It is for me. Just write. That’s always been my motto. Let the story unfold. Let the story — the written story — tell you where it should go next. Don’t force it. Let if flow.

That’s what I’m doing. I just finished chapter 1 of book three. I really like it. It is going to help set the tone for what’s to come. Now, I know what chapter 2 will do. That will lead me to chapter 3 and, hopefully, before I know it, I’ll be writing the ending that I know I want.

While outlining and pausing writing to think can be helpful, it should never replace the actual writing. I have been reminded of that this week.

Now get to it. Chapter 2, here I come.

Time + Thinking = The Solution to All Writing Problems

It’s not always easy to know which way a story should go.

Should minor characters begin to play a more major role?

Should a character be killed off?

Should I change the setting?

Story threads are fragile. Each minor decision can send a story spiraling in a direction that may or may not be good.  As a writer, it’s impossible to explore every plausible avenue or nothing would ever get done.

I have found, however, that the right amount of time and a proper amount of thinking can solve even the trickiest writer’s problem.

My current issue revolves around part III of my new trilogy. Parts I and II flowed remarkably smooth. I finished part II in August 2017 and have been revising and editing it ever since, and it’s now about 6 weeks away from being released. Part III has proven to be more elusive. I know the ending. But the problem is how to get there.

My book has a rather large cast of main characters. The supporting cast is large and has played a significant role. In book two, I added a new main character to help support the story, but that has added additional challenges to an already unwieldy cast.

And so over these past few months, I’ve been trying out many different reiterations of what should happen in part III.

What I’ve come to realize is that if you put enough time into thinking through all the ramifications for each main idea, the path forward will slowly start to emerge. Just this morning, I reordered the first couple chapters, imagined a few new ideas and with some reworking, believe I now have a solid way forward which I didn’t have last week.

That’s progress.

It came through

1. TIME

Let the manuscript sit.  Don’t be too hasty to get it to the marketplace. Read it fresh after a month of not thinking about it. It will help bring clarity.

2. THINKING.

Sometimes you don’t need to write, you need to think.  Jot down a few ideas. Think. Jot down new idea. Think some more. How does it change things? Better? Worse? What are you overlooking?

And when you put proper TIME together with the right amount of THINKING, you’ll be on the road to solving your writing problem.

Don’t be afraid to slow it down.

BUT, once you figured it out, finish it! Without exception! Go! Go! Go!

Get it done and get it out in the marketplace.

Now on to the next.

 

 

Outline the Ending! Really?

I’ve been inundated with those Master Class video ads on social media lately. I’m sure you’ve seen them, and I have to admit, some of them certainly catch my eye. I was real curious to see what Ron Howard and Martin Scorsese said about film-making, and even their introductory videos were quite engaging.

Of course, there’s a bunch of well-known writers on there as well, and I am, as a writer, interested to hear what they have to say. I like to keep my options open. I like to learn and grow in my craft, but whenever someone says how important it is to do this or that when being a creative writer, I usually balk at it and tell them to slow down the bus!

Writing is different from film-making or some of the other arts because it’s so subjective. There’s no one formula. There’s no “best practices” which will insure success. Sure, there are some writing guidelines which may help, especially for young writers, but blanket statements are not that helpful.

One well-known writer on the Master Class videos said how important it is to outline. You must outline, outline, outline like crazy. Outline until the cows come home. Outline through all your holidays. Outline until you’re blue in the face, or until the next season of your favorite show comes out. OUTLINE!!!! Okay, I might be paraphrasing here.

But the point is, this particular writer emphasized how important outlining is. And in reply to that, I say hogwash!

It might be important to you. It’s obviously important to him. It’s not important to me. Now you might think to naturally side with him because he’s famous and rich and I’m not. That’s a valid point. But if I may, I content his outlining obsession has nothing to do with his success.

Here’s the problem I have with outlining. For me, it’s basically useless, because by the time I  hit the third chapter of my outline, the rest of my outline has no validity because I’ve changed the story so much since my original ideas.

Why?

Simple! Writing leads to new ideas. New writing leads to newer ideas. To think you can sit down and know the ending of a creative story before you actually start writing is rather preposterous. That’s like chaining yourself in and not allowing your ideas to grow as your story grows.

So if you do outline, I’d offer this advice. Don’t let the outline be the ultimate driver of where your story is going. Use it as a guide, but as your ideas develop, please feel free to change your outline. Please feel free to change your ending!

Just today, I completely revamped an ending to a play which I thought I had finished yesterday. But it wasn’t sitting right for me, so I had to go back and change it.

Now, with all that said, it doesn’t mean that I never outline. I do loosely outline at times when I think I see where the story is going. For example, on my new fiction trilogy, I do know the ending of book three. But I only know the ending because I already wrote book 1 and 2. When I was writing book 1, I didn’t even know how it would end. But now that I’ve written 2/3’s of the trilogy, it has become obvious to me what the ending must be. Great! No problem!

My ultimate point here is that there is not one correct way to write. It’s so personal and subjective. Do what you are comfortable with. Follow your passion and your story. Allow it mold and form what you want to say. Never allow preset guidelines to determine where your story must go.

You know where it’s supposed to go. It’s in your heart. You were made for this moment. Create and discover what you never thought possible.

Novel Writing: Time to Do the Heavy Lifting

I’m writing my first trilogy, and I must admit, the first 2/3s has come rather easily. Book one cruised by and set-up book two perfectly. Book two introduced some new characters and the adventure went farther, deeper, and more enjoyable than I could have anticipated. Even the ending flowed, setting up book three.

But now, well, I’ve just realized something. If I want this series to end in book three, which I do, then it’s time to do the heavy lifting. By heavy lifting, I mean I need to invest some serious amount of time into thinking, yes thinking, before I get back to writing.

I know the ending of the trilogy. It’s a no-brainer in my mind, but I sat down yesterday and did my first actual writing on book three, I realized that I got a lot of work to do if I’m going to tie all these lose ends together, because I have a lot of loose ends. This series has a plethora of related plots, which have worked well up to this point, and I am confident that they will work well through the ending, but admittedly, I don’t see it all yet.

Now some might call this writer’s block, but I think that’s nonsense. I have plenty of things to write about in this novel and I could go and whip off a chapter right now if I’d like. But, in my mind, this is the crucial moment. The moment of decision which is going to affect a reader’s overall view of this trilogy.

The problem is all about choices. There are so many choices to make. Here are a few:

When should the story pick up again? Immediately after book 2?  I think not. I need a new clever hook, and I have that, I believe. The new book will start in 1348 Europe, the Europe that’s being decimated by the black plague. Has my series had anything to do with that so far? No. That’s why I think it’s cool. A reader will start wondering what in the world this has to do with the plotline, but they will be rewarded, I, as the writer, must make sure of it. And I will.

But after my jaunt in time is finished, how do I pick up the lives of the main characters? Is it the next day? The next week? The next year? I’m currently leaning towards week.

If I choose week, what has transpired that the readers are going to need to know about? And how do I insert that situation? Should I isolate the main characters? Should I have them together? Each decision changes the way the book will flow.

What about the villains? Are they going to get away with it? Are they going to be tracked down? How? What surprises await them? What surprises await the readers?

Do all of my character’s actions feel justified by their motivation?

So I am at a writing crossroad, but before I choose, I must consciously weigh each path and then choose one. Will I ever know if I chose the right one or the wrong one? No. Writing is so subjective that it makes reading extremely subjective.

All I can do is do the proper heavy lifting in my mind and then hope for the best. Here goes.